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Editorial Paid family leave a growing need

May 24, 2019

Given the agreement among the relevant parties over the need to see Connecticut enact a system of paid family and medical leave, its uncertain status as the legislative session reaches its end stages is difficult to understand.

Gov. Ned Lamont had included the plan as one of the major initiatives of his first term. Legislative leaders agreed. But Lamont this week threatened to veto the plan under consideration in Hartford, while Senate Democrats went ahead and passed the bill anyway.

What happens next is unclear. But with any number of major initiatives on the table — including tolls, recreational marijuana, a public option for health care and, not least, a two-year state budget — the governor and legislative leaders need to ensure a worthy plan doesn’t fall through the cracks. They must agree on a family leave plan that works for all sides and ensure that it gets passed.

As it now stands, the Senate would have to pass a separate bill to satisfy Lamont’s demands and the House, which has yet to take up the idea, needs to follow suit. It might be a lot to ask as the session nears its conclusion.

Everyone in leadership seems to agree on the basic idea. The plan would provide 12 weeks of wage replacement to private sector workers who have medical needs of their own or a family member in their care. It would be funded through a 0.5 percent payroll tax on every Connecticut employee, with replacement wages highest for low-income workers.

This is not a revolutionary idea. The United States is one of a handful of nations worldwide that does not offer mandatory paid family leave, and the idea is catching on in individual states, too. Current law, which provides leave but does not require a worker to be paid during that time off, is insufficient for almost anyone without a huge savings to fall back on.

Paid time off for family or medical leave is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Especially with an aging population and more people taking full-time care of elderly parents while also working, the need is only going to increase.

So it’s up to legislators and, mostly, Lamont to figure this out. His veto threat took almost everyone by surprise.

Republicans, for their part, seem to think the system works fine the way it is, and that efforts to improve matters are the government saying, “Let us control your life.” It would be nice to have two parties equally interested in governance, but that’s not the case right now.

Lamont is hung up on the administration of the new benefit, and whether state agencies or private insurers should handle the bulk of it. The governor seems to be taking the position that the state is guaranteed to get it wrong, which is an odd position for a Democratic governor to take.

Regardless, a compromise is now necessary and must be a priority. Paid family leave needs to pass.

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